Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rebel without a Cause

Patriots’ Day was celebrated this week in Massachusetts. It wasn’t another parade for the Superbowl champs, it’s a holiday that commemorates the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775. Each year there is a reenactment of the battles including mounted re-enactors who retrace the midnight rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes. The biggest part of the celebration is the Boston Marathon which has been run every Patriots’ Day since 1897 (to mark the then-recently established holiday linking the Athenian and American struggles for liberty since marathons were named after the Greek Battle of Marathon. The thirteen colonies rebelled against King George, ultimately establishing the new nation with a new way of doing business. It’s served the country well for nearly 240 years.

Not everybody agrees. 41% of the population have confidence in government according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, published annually from one of the leading research and communications firms in the world. More interestingly in 19 of the 27 countries studied there is more distrust than trust. The annual survey shows that media isn't believed and that search engines are now the most trusted way for the general population to get its news and that family and friends are more reliable than traditional reporting. (A subject for a whole other blog!)

The popular thinking is that the U.S. political system is broken. Realclearpolitics has a combination of surveys which show that 71% disapprove of Congress. Regardless of which party has a majority, Congress has been ineffective at passing significant legislation. Pundits have used the lack of laws being passed as the determining factor of whether Congress has done its job or not. While it’s an important metric, it forgets that the Founders set up the system as Representative government  (where people are elected to office to represent a group of people). It’s not direct democracy where individuals vote on every issue directly.

As of October 2014 Gallup polling found that 43% of Americans identified as Democrats and 39% as Republicans, when party "leaners" were included; those figures changed to 41% Democratic and 42% Republican after the November 2014 elections. The 114th Congress currently has 56% Republicans in the House and 54% in the Senate with Democrats representing 43% of the House and 44% of the Senate. In other words: Congress pretty accurately reflects the people it represents.

After the 2014 mid-term elections I wrote a blog that showed after including eligible voters into the calculation, just 13% of the population was actually determining who would be elected. When a majority of voices are silent – either by their own choice or defacto by onerous voting procedures – then the disconnect that exists today can occur. An overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of the job its government is doing, yet consistently re-elects those leaders at a rate in excess of 90%. This occurs because a huge majority of people do not participate in the process, but do have an opinion. So comparing voting results with polling results is comparing apples and oranges (or Republicans and Democrats). By opting out of the established process of voicing one’s opinion, this silent majority are rebels without a cause.

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